Posted on 15-07-2010
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

I watched Spirit of the Marathon a few nights ago and I’ll admit it…I cried. That sweeping helicopter shot over the huge crowd at the starting line always gets me. More than any other part of my marathon and half marathon experiences, the feeling of anticipation while standing in that crowd of people at the start is etched solidly into my memory.

The movie wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it was going to be a documentary about elite runners and how they train, etc. Instead, it follow 6 runners of very different backgrounds as they train for and eventually race the 2005 Chicago marathon. There are two elite runners, but the others are a varied group of people: 2 first time runners, a 70-something man and a 30-something guy trying to qualify for Boston. Interspersed are interview clips with historians and famous runners commenting on various aspects of training, racing, etc.

Watching the group training runs in downtown Chicago made me miss my Saturday morning dates with Richie, Justin and Steve. I haven’t even seen Justin and Steve since the marathon and only saw Richie briefly when I dropped Alice off to babysit his son a few weeks ago. I was on the tipping point of ramping up my training and the movie seems to have pushed me over the edge. If there had been any light left in the day when the movie was over, I would have laced up the racing shoes and immediately ripped out a tempo run.

Instead, I had to wait for the morning when the feeling had died down a bit. I still made it out and in some of the hottest weather we had all summer, I ran a warm up mile, then ran hard for 3 miles, threw up about 4 times and then ran a cool down mile back home. After work, I ran to the gym with Alice, did a leg workout and then ran home. For the first time in a long time, I slipped into bed physically exhausted and slept like a log.

I’m certainly far from the shape I was in earlier this year, but I’m mentally back. I can feel that the speed and endurance will quickly follow.

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Posted on 11-07-2010
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

Three years ago, I wrote a post about failure in a tempo workout that inquired about M.H. Alderson, to whom the quote, “If at first you don’t succeed, you’re running about average,” is attributed.

This week, his family chimed in. As it turns out, Mr. Alderson was a pretty good guy. He earned a purple heart and two bronze stars, returned to the U.S., got married, became a small town newspaper publisher, a great father and a civic leader. He died of cancer in 1984. His quote was originally inspiring to me because I’ve read about so many successful people who started out with a string of failures. Even people who seem invincible, like Lance Armstrong and Richard Branson, have there bad days (like today in Mr. Armstrong’s case).

I remembered writing the post three years ago because it included a lot of fun quotes. I had forgotten why I wrote it. The two comments from Mr. Alderson’s family this week led me back to that post and I read it with a smile. As I previously mentioned, the post was about a failed tempo run. I was trying to run 3 miles at 7:35 pace. I only got 2 miles before I had to walk. At the time, I was wondering if I’d ever be any good at running. I was feeling a little bit like I’ve been feeling the last few weeks. I was questioning why I race and why I spend so much time at an activity that on the surface seems rather pointless.

That post from 3 years ago reminded me that it wasn’t pointless because this February I nearly held that 7:35 pace for 26.2 miles and one month before that, I held a 6:48 pace for 13.1. I’ve worked hard in the time since that post and I have improved – quite a bit. When the sun is hot and it’s hard to breathe and the workouts hurt, it can be hard to see that improvement, but if you’ve been consistent and you look back over a longer time, you can see that it does matter.

So, when your heroes are being plagued by doping scandals and sex scandals. When they don’t seem so much like great heroes anymore – and all heroes have their shares of bad moments (they are human after all) – look back at yourself. You may be your own hero.

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Posted on 03-07-2010
Filed Under (Inspiration) by Brian

This week, I’ve been hanging out with the family in a nice home up in the Smoky Mountains outside of Gatlinburg, TN. I haven’t been running at all. The neighborhood streets are very narrow, very steep and very curvy. Alice and I decided it was much too dangerous to run on them…or maybe that’s just a convenient excuse.

In any case, we’re not exactly sedentary. Yesterday, we decided to tackle the Chimney Tops, a popular 2 mile trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is steep. It climbs up 1700 feet over those 2 miles and our progress was slow. Wendy isn’t as used to cardiovascular exercise as Raffi, Alice and I are, so she was feeling the effects. About 1.5 miles into the hike, she couldn’t go any further so she and Raffi hiked back down to a stream while Alice and I continued to the top.

At this point, I should back up and mention a peculiar incident that occurred earlier on the trail. We were climbing a particularly steep part of the trail when a shirtless teenage boy went running past us at full speed, breathing very heavily. His run didn’t last very long and he stopped about 50 yards ahead of us to catch his breath. Then, he started dancing. Right there in the middle of the trail, he attempted to do the robot. Soon, his father called him back to the group and the whole group eventually passed us while were were resting near a stream.

Fast forward about 45 minutes. Alice and I had reached the top of the trail after leaving Raffi and Wendy behind. To reach the spectacular view at the top of the Chimneys, one has to climb about 100 yards up a series of rocks. It looks like this:


Note the caption on the photo. Alice and I proceeded up the rocks, wary of the 100-200 foot vertical drop on either side. Proceeding on all fours, the climb wasn’t horrible, but the rocks were hot and burned our hands so there was little time to rest and analyze the tricky path up. There were also quite a few people coming down, so we had to wedge ourselves into small spaces to let them pass. We were about halfway up and dancing boy was sitting with his family about three quarters of the way up when a lady emerged near the bottom of the climb.

“There’s an easier way over here!” she yelled up the hill. That made sense. After all, I’d read about 8 year olds successfully reaching the summit of the Chimney Tops. We scrambled back down only to find that the “easy way” was blocked by a fence with a “hiker alert” saying that the area was closed for rehabilitation.

When this close to the edge of a steep vertical drop, I tend to listen to the National Park Service and not go into closed areas, but it had been a long climb to get to this point and dammit, we wanted to see the 360 degree view.

We climbed the fence and made our way a long a gently sloping path around the peak. This was indeed much, much easier. When we reached the end of the path, there was a steep, narrow 30 foot climb to the summit. It was a little more treacherous that the longer climb on the other side, but it seemed easier to swallow our fears for 30 feet of climbing.

We pinned our backs against the rock face so hikers descending could make their way around us. Meanwhile, dancing boy and his family brushed past us in the other direction and waited in a tree for the descending hikers. When the last hikers were down, an old man at the summit yelled down at us.

“Come on up and get your money’s worth!”

From the bottom, I swear it was Larry the Flip flop guy, but that seemed impossible. Dancing boy’s family started up and dancing boy reluctantly followed. Alice and I lined up behind.

“Do you want me to go first, or do you want to?” I asked Alice.

“I’ll go first,” she replied. “If you were to fall, we’d both die. If I fall, you can catch me.”

The logic sort of made sense and she started up the steep climb. I looked up, grabbed the rocks with my hands and started up behind her. As I looked past her at the very slow progress made by dancing boy, it occurred to me that Alice’s logic was slightly flawed because a fall by the eccentric dancing boy would certainly take both of us out.

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than he started kicking the side of the mountain erratically. Dirt and rocks fell into our face. Then, he screamed a loud, high pitched scream and let go of the rocks. I don’t know how he stayed on the mountain as he stood straight up and turned around, facing out toward the open air.

“I don’t want to die!” he screamed has he started to rapidly descend, out of control toward us.

“Oh shit,” I said to my daughter, “we gotta get the hell outta here.”

Adrenaline shot through me as I slid down the rocks. Thankfully, the tree prevented us from going over the edge as we slid past the narrow trail. The screaming continued from above.

“Where are you going? Mommy! Mommy! I want my mommy!”

Alice and I scurried along the narrow ledge like squirrels on an electrical wire.

We heard another high pitched squeal behind us.

“I want them to leave me alone! Mommy! Mommy! I don’t want to die!”

We could then here dancing boy’s dad telling him to get down as fast as he could. Alice and I clambered over the fence, past dancing boy’s mom and aunt who were having a conversation about camelbaks with another group and started back down the trail.

A quarter mile later, dancing boy ran past us at full speed, his back full of giant, puffy welts. His sister soon followed and we eventually found them bathing in the same stream where Raffi and Wendy were waiting for us.

Later, dancing boy and his mom hiked down behind us and asked for Benedryl. He had been stung multiple times by angry bees. We had none, but they made it all the way down and found someone at the bottom with Benedryl in their car. We’re pretty sure he is autistic, which explains some of the behavior we witnessed. Still, he outweighed both of us and he looked like he was going to kill himself and take both of us with him.

If I ever return to the Chimney Tops, I’m going on a cooler day and I’m taking the “hard” way.

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